Ice Network

Russia House: Plushenko, pair prowl in team event

Volosozhar, Trankov rock pairs short; Hanyu, Plushy go 1-2 in men's
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Evgeni Plushenko celebrates his score in the kiss and cry with coach Alexei Mishin (right) and choreographer David Avdish. -Getty Images

Yuzuru Hanyu skated a near-perfect program to win the men's short program, and Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov gave Team Russia a key win in pairs. But the first night of the team skating event at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games belonged to Evgeni Plushenko, who preened, posed and landed his jumps, one more time.

It wasn't quite a vintage performance. At age 31, and after knee, back and hernia surgeries, Plushenko doesn't have the speed or flexibility of his skating youth or even middle age. But when it comes to competitive pride and sheer chutzpah, the 2006 Olympic champion has no peer.

"I've skated in four Olympic Games in my life; it doesn't matter what the result in the end is," Plushenko said. "This is already a win for me."

Plushenko, who also won Olympic silver in 2002 and 2010, opened his tango short with three jumping passes -- a quad toe-triple toe combination, triple Axel and triple Lutz -- then relied on dramatic gestures, some ham acting and an adoring hometown crowd to carry him the rest of the way.

The judges helped, assigning the Russian positive grades of execution for some very shaky spins, as well as relatively high program components scores. It added up to a more-than-respectable 91.39 points, some 0.09 more than his personal-best ISU championships score.

"I am so happy I could do a good performance," Plushenko said. "Today, I did a quality combination of quad-triple and all of my other jumps.

"It is hard to compete at home, but sometimes it helps me. I came to the ice and heard the crowd [chanting 'Zhenya! Zhenya!'], and I felt shocked and dizzy, but I could concentrate."

His second place in the men's event earned nine points and gave Russia an important boost. The home country's 19-point total is two more than Canada's tally as the 10-country event heads into the ladies and ice dance short programs Saturday night.

Plushenko was greatly aided in the cause by Volosozhar and Trankov, who skated a slightly tentative but clean and commanding short that earned 83.79 points, defeating Canadian champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford by 10.69 points.

"We were probably a little cautious," Trankov, 30, said. "We were saving some of our energy for the individual event, but we did want to do a good result for the team. We did not want to fail Evgeni Plushenko, who did so great."

Trankov added that he and Volosozhar would not perform the pairs free skate, saying they must rest up for the individual pairs event, which begins Feb. 11.

"We are not the youngest skaters, and it is impossible for us to skate four programs in such a short number of days," he said. "If there was more time [between events], we would love to do it."

Duhamel and Radford had a superb short, landing side-by-side triple Lutzes and a throw triple Lutz. Their second place gave Canada nine points.

"It was amazing," Radford said. "Everything about it all just happened. Our goal was to be top two."

Canada's three-time world champion, Patrick Chan, had a solid but unspectacular program, turning out of his triple Axel and reducing a planned quad-triple combination to a quad-double. He earned 89.71 points and placed third to Hanyu and Plushenko in the men's event.

"I wanted to be perfect, but a little doubt crept into my mind," Chan said. "I was a little passive on the jump landings. I can go out and attack them more."

A few days ago, Chan called Plushenko's presence in Sochi more of a distraction than a true competitive threat. Today, at least, the Russian proved him wrong, although Chan isn't concerned about the upcoming men's individual event.

"I did not see Plushenko; I put my music on and try to stay focused on my own world, as opposed to someone else's," he said. "Ninety-one is a good score, but I've seen it before; it's nothing special. I've seen 97 (Hanyu's score) before, too, so I'm not concerned with that, either."

It is shaping up as a close battle between the two figure skating giants. Looking ahead to Sunday's short programs, Canadian Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir should prevail over either of Russia's top two ice dance teams, while Russia's dynamic teenage duo of Julia Lipnitskaia and Adelina Sotnikova have had far stronger seasons than Canadian champion Kaetlyn Osmond.

The Chinese pairs team of Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang, and man Han Yan, put up third- and fourth-place finishes, respectively, to give China third place with 15 points. Two weaker events -- ladies and, especially, ice dance -- lie ahead.

Hanyu's sparkling short, including a quad toe, triple Axel and triple Lutz-triple toe combination, gave Japan 10 points, but the country's pair, Narumi Takahashi and Ryuichi Kihara, were eighth in their event. Japan sits fourth with 13 points.

Three countries -- Germany, France and the U.S. -- all earned 10 points, but tiebreakers put Germany fifth, France sixth and the U.S. seventh.

Four-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott, who has dazzled in practices here, faltered badly in his short, falling on a quad toe and popping a triple Axel into a single. His 65.65 points -- more than 30 points lower than his short program score at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships last month -- left him in seventh place.

It was familiar territory for Abbott, who posted disappointing performances at the 2010 Olympics, where he finished ninth.

"I'm torn apart I couldn't do it for my team," he said. "But I've had my Olympic disaster and I can move on. I'm so happy I got this out of the way and I can move forward and upward."

U.S. pairs champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir had a solid short; their only major mistake was Castelli's hand down on a triple Salchow. With the ladies and ice dance events coming up, their 64.25 points and fifth-place finish kept the U.S. well within striking distance.

"We made mistakes on the jumps and still got a season's best and personal best," Shnapir said. "We know we can score much higher next week when we do our individual event."

After Sunday's ladies and ice dance shorts, the five countries with the highest cumulative points totals ascend to the final round, where skaters will perform their free skates. If there is a tie or ties, a series of tiebreakers -- published by the ISU earlier this month -- will determine the top five.